How to destroy the government

From Fintan O’Toole’s perceptive review of Michael Lewis’s book The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy:

In October 1987 Ronald Reagan sprayed his folksy charm over an old antigovernment joke: “You know, it’s said that the ten most frightening words in the English language are: ‘Hello, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’” Reagan was speaking to small-business owners likely to be receptive to the idea that even the most well-intentioned government agencies do nothing but get in the way. There was always an element of hypocrisy in this—Republican politicians have gone on deploying the power of federal patronage, and their supporters have never been allergic to taxpayer dollars. Republican presidents thus continued, even as they starved some parts of the federal government, to have an interest in actually running it.

The joke, though, was always likely to become a serious proposition sooner or later. If you keep saying that government is not the solution but the problem, that “Washington” as a generic term for all the institutions that manage the public realm is just a swamp to be drained, you will end up wanting to destroy it. And if this is what you want to do, then the aspects of Trump that seem most like political weaknesses—his ignorance and his incompetence—are not weaknesses at all. They are powerful weapons of administrative destruction. The best way to undermine government is to make it as stupid and as inept as your rhetoric has always claimed it to be.

In that respect at least, Trump is sure doing his best.